Friday, August 26, 2011

Red Riding Hood

starring Amanda Seyfried as Red (Valerie) and directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Wait, you say, Catherine Hardwicke? The director of Twilight?

Yes, folks. The director of Twilight.

My first reaction when seeing the trailer and knowing this fact was "Why, world? Why didn't you let it be Tim Burton?"

In spite of this, I tried very hard not to judge it based solely on the choice of director. My dad might tell you otherwise, having watched the movie with me (sorry, dad!), but I really did try. It didn't work incredibly well. Too much of the film was just too predictable.

First, the introduction was trying too hard to be Twilight. The establishing shots of foggy, groggy, Pacific North-West style rolling forest hills could have been cut and pasted from Hardwicke's aforementioned project. Second, the acting, barring only miss Seyfried (by grace of her portraying a young lady with a million times more grace and dexterity than Kristen Stewart's Bella - then again, it doesn't take much), was pretty atrocious. I also bar Gary Oldman from this judgment, who I hope was paid extremely well in compensation for the terrible accent he had to put on. Last, and most important, was the severe incongruousness.

The setting (temporal): the village where the story plays out is one where Red/Valerie is arranged to marry the Blacksmith (Henry), as she will have a much more secure financial life with him, rather than with the woodcutter she loves (Peter). The houses are what you would imagine: simple, wooden, rustic. The costuming hints at a period piece while deftly side-stepping any real temporal commitment. When Gary Oldman (Father Solomon, who also happens to be the only character with a costume which could potentially be dated) appears on the scene, his thick pseudo-German accent would hint that they are somewhere in Europe. As he and his entourage arrive on horseback and the village, if it is truly as isolated as is professed by our heroine and narrator, would almost certainly not know of a Werewolf specialist from overseas, I have to conclude that they are somewhere at least on the same continent. All of the other actors speak with American accents.

The setting (physical): I said village, right? Rustic, scenic, isolated. The aforementioned costuming throws logic to the winds and the peasants of this community dress in fine, bright fabrics. There is an array of colors, from bright blue to bright yellow, and in hues that simple folk of their bent would almost certainly be unable to afford or make. What use would they have of a forest-green work shirt, let alone finery, when Red tells us in the very beginning that the rest of the world doesn't even know her village's name? (Thanks to IMDb's lovely reminder, I can also gripe about the glass windows, which only the rich could afford.) Back to the clothes. To give credit where it is due, I understand that this is meant to be a fantasy and that these kind of things can, and do, slide. But aesthetically speaking, to have a dingier, grittier village would have lent all the more visual power and command to Red's beautiful cloak, which was much more realistic: while it was bright red, as promised, it was coarse-woven and a gift from Red's granny. It seemed just as it should be.

So ultimately I forgive the costumes. What I can't quite forgive, as this is a period piece, was that Peter's hair was clearly moussed. Not only was this a serious affront in the period piece category, it made him an Edward-wannabe and, similar to the effect it had on Robert Pattinson, took away practically all of Shiloh Fernandez's attractiveness. And, for those of you who are interested, I don't know if you've looked at other pictures of him, but he is SMOKIN'. So seriously, I don't know what they were thinking with the hair gel. I can only hope that, in spite of bad hair choices, we'll see more of him in better-directed, better-written movies.

And now to give credit where it really is due. The cinematography was quite good. It didn't make up for the writing, but there were some extremely lovely moments, especially Red's hallucination-scenes wherein her cloak gets much longer and is usually being blown around in the wind as she walks through untouched snow. SO visually appealing. So kudos to the crew for that.

I will also own that the Wolf was meticulously animated. While I still prefer Van Helsing's man-wolf, the oversized, lean Wolf of Red Riding Hood ranks right up there with the best. I may even place it as my second-favorite werewolf design in film. (Perhaps third, with American Werewolf in London holding an honorary second place.)

The next credit-award is possibly what shocked me most of all: I actually didn't predict who the Wolf was. It distracted me even from the poor acting for almost the entire second half of the film. There are some false threads and enough ambiguity that the reveal was refreshing. I won't spoil that part, just in case anyone wants to find out on their own.

What amused me the most about this film, however, was the blatant murder-mystery-game feeling the whole production had. Gary Oldman literally said something to the effect of "Bar the entrances. No-one leaves!" I burst out laughing.

My conclusion is that someone got drunk, played The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow, watched Twilight, and spat out "I HAVE A WONDERFUL IDEA."

Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, you make me mourn what this movie could have been.

Red on IMDb
Red's YouTube Trailer
The best game in Existence: The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow and its two expansions, New Moon and The Village!

The Decemberists

Live and in concert at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon!

Oh my goodness gracious sakes alive.

(If the above did not convey shock and awe, please insert it here.)

Not to knock them. Not at all. But they were so much better in concert than I ever could have dreamed they would be. Singer and frontman Colin Meloy was spot-on, the whole band sounded tight, Peter Buck appeared to play for a song (who, they told us, was actually a sprite that lives in the Troutdale woods, appearing to perform with musicians when they play music of an appropriate bent: "that's how REM found him," Colin said), and Jenny Conlee played the whole show, despite her ongoing battle with breast cancer. The sound quality: excellent. The set: brilliant, pulled from every album, varied, and wonderful. The energy: perfect.

It was the kind of show that induces a blissed-out buzz, a buzz that only leaves you when you're utterly exhausted and then leaves you exhausted for the next whole day.

There were a few perks in particular to this show. One of them was one of the most powerful messages I have ever seen conveyed on a stage. In talking about how grateful they were that Jenny could be there to perform with them, not only did Colin lead the entire crowd in a little healing magic/positive thought - we all put our hands in the air, said "ooooOOOO, aaaAAAAA, KAZAM!" and she looked down at herself shocked as though we'd cured her; "that'll do it, right?" said Colin - but he went on to explain their merch campaign. They've designed shirts and buttons (not available online) that read "Team Jenny" printed along the side of an accordion: all the proceeds go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As though that wasn't poignant enough, Colin went on: "We're going to play a song for Jenny, now. It's called This is Why We Fight." I had to work hard not to burst into tears. For those of you who aren't complete Decemberists fanatics, the lyrics to This is Why We Fight's chorus go: "This is why/why we fight/why we lie awake,/ this is why/why we fight:/so when we die/we will die/with our arms unbound!/This is why/this is why we fight/come hell." It also has an incredibly powerful music video to go with it.

My personal favorite perk of the evening, however, was that they fearlessly played their longest tracks: as part of encore number one (of three!) they played most, if not all, of The Tain, an eighteen-minute track! And, to top it off, as their second to last song of the night, they played my personal and all-time favorite, The Mariner's Revenge Song. Yes, folks. I danced the interpretive whale dance to the best of my ability and screamed like a dying sailor being eaten by a whale. In public. In my defense the latter part was by instruction. The whole crowd screamed and oh, what a sound we made. The video of the entire song (NOT MY DANCE, thank heaven), is pending on the YouTube. Their last song of the night, one of their very finest, was June Hymn, and though the drunk in front of us kept screaming at the most inopportune times during it, it was a beautiful performance nonetheless.

It also turns out that not only are The Decemberists basically King and court of Portlandia, they are some of the most creative people I have ever had the fortune to stumble across. Check out their website, their collaboration with The Impossible Project, The Impossible Project's homepage, and the site for Colin and his wife, Carson Ellis', novel Wildwood for details.

The (excellent) Openers:
Okkervil River
Point Juncture, WA


Was just like I hoped it would be. It would be an ideal double-feature with Constantine, Van Helsing, Underworld, or even Legion for optimum levels of ass kicking, badassery, and supernatural crap of some denomination.

Paul Bettany: perfect, I only wish they'd have let him keep his glorious British accent.

Karl Urban: perfect in every way. Put a gold star on the black hat.

Maggie Q: could have participated in the badassery more, but had her moment and so I am satisfied.

Cam Gigandet: had his good moments, his bad moments: if only they'd have let him actually tan rather than giving him the Jersey treatment!

The Vampires: one of the most original vampire concepts this side of Western Media in the last decade. Perhaps longer.

The design: superb. I've no idea how much the design for the film looks like the designs from the original korean graphic novels (serialized in the states by the juggernaut Tokyopop), but here's a list of everything that I can judge went into the aesthetics for the movie: Assassin's Creed for the costumes of the Priests/Priestesses (Paul Bettany especially), super turbo mega awesome motorcycles a la FFVII Advent Children, futuristic Cowboys/space western/twisted western, steam power meets Blade Runner cyber-city, windswept post-apocalypse desert, enough conducting explosions to orchestral music to make V proud, blood gore violence and, of course, who could forget? a fight on top of a moving train.

In short: BRILLIANT.

Go watch it.


Just to clear the air, Inkdeath, the conclusion of Cornelia Funke's Inkworld trilogy, made book two, which I looked at as a literary difficulty, all better. It may have even made it worthwhile. Maybe.

Perseverance. :P